Rural Women’s Education

There is a pressing need for general education for women in developing countries. Education for women has a lagged behind in many countries, and there is evidence that literacy rates for rural women are even lower than their urban counterparts. For instance, in Bangladesh, the adult literacy rate for rural women is only 36.2 percent, compared to 60.0 percent for urban women, and 56.1 percent for rural men compared to 75.4 percent for urban men (Pal, 2001).

As is well captured in the FAO study "Rural Women and Food Security in Asia", the impacts of poor access to education for women are manifold and undoubtedly not restricted to Asia. Poorly educated rural women are more likely to encounter the adverse effects of structural changes in the economy, particularly in an agriculture sector. As the study notes: "Prevailing shortfalls in rural female literacy achievement, coupled with trends towards the feminization of farming, underline the urgency for taking action to improve the skills and knowledge of rural women as a means to advance their technological and economic empowerment. National actions to empower women with education will be investments in human capital for agriculture and rural development with consequent positive outcomes for household and national food security." Multiple studies have also found women’s education plays a positive role in achieving goals for child schooling and nutrition.

Agriculture is fundamentally knowledge-based. Women need an education to participate fully and successfully in farming, for instance to achieve good production and acquire business skills are required to sell grain and manage household income. Women who lack access to basic education are likely to be excluded from new opportunities and their families will lag behind.

It is important to have gender sensitive approaches to increase access to literacy, basic math skills, and agricultural extension services. Specific training with mechanisms to manage gender-based biases on access to land, micro-credit, and marketing opportunities are needed to close gaps for women rural women and avoid perpetuating long term gender inequities.

Women Farmers

Women make crucial contributions to the agricultural sector as farmers, fishers, livestock keepers, farm labourers and primary processing. An average 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries are women, ranging from about 20 percent in the Americas to almost 50 percent in East and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Sadly, women farmers typically achieve yields that are 20-30 percent lower than men, not because they are less skilled but because they use fewer inputs like improved seeds and fertilizers. If the yield gap between male and female farmers were closed, it could generate additional production sufficient to reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100-150 million or 12-17 percent, according to FAO.

Closing this gap means focusing on access to the productive resources and services, such as land, livestock, human capital, extension services, financial services and new technology, for women. As well, rural women employed in agriculture are less likely than men to have low paying jobs, and only temporary or seasonal work.

As the UN is about to talk about Rural Women for the first time from February 27-March 9, it is important to remember how feminine the face of global farming is and how we must close the gap in access to resources.

Rio +20 Key News

Here are some key deadlines and dates for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development:

Rio+20 Conference: 20-22 June

Thematic days: 16-19 June

PrepCom: 13-15 June

March Intersessional

Informal negotiations will occur from March 19-23. Major Groups may only observe at these meetings and will not be allowed to speak from the floor. The intersessional will occur March 26-27. Please check the web site for registration details.

Side Events in March – Deadline February 5, 2012

Side events will only be permitted March 26-27 and the deadline for application is February 5th. Please connect to this link:

Brazil Registration – Deadline May 20

For Brazil in June: Registration will close on 20 May 2012.

Side events – Deadline February 28 Learning Events and March 30 for Side Events

There will be side events:

  • within Rio Centro facilitates by the Secretariat

  • in Flamingo park and other areas facilitated by the Brazilian government

  • The online form for submitting proposals for the SD-Learning events is now open and available at deadline 28 February 2012

  • The online form for submitting proposals for the on-site side events is now open and available at deadline: deadline 30 March 2012

4 thematic days

These are organized and lead by Brazilian government and they have not completed their process yet, however, it seems food security and poverty eradication will be a half day on the agenda. Civil Society participation will be given priority. These will be held at the Arena across from Rio Centro

INFO on accreditation of new groups for Rio+20 – Deadline February 20

Preregistration is open to NGOs and major groups that are currently in consultative status to ECOSOC and to NGOs and major groups that were accredited to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. NGOs and other Major groups’ organisations that are NOT yet accredited to the United Nations and wish to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) will be offered a one time opportunity to become accredited to Rio+20. The deadline for new accreditation is 20 February 2012.

Look here to start the accreditation for new groups:

The deadline for new accreditation is 20 February 2012. Once your registration is approved, your organization can preregister representatives until the general deadline of 20 May 2012.

Women in Agriculture

As the UN is about to talk about Rural Women for the first time from February 27-March 9, it is important to remember how feminine the face of global farming is. In Canada, farming is largely a male domain, but in places like Africa and Asia it is a very different picture.

As we contemplate this, I was struck by this TED video that talks about women entrepreneurship. We already know women’s co-operatives are frequently part of primary processing in developing world agriculture, but we talk about it as a rarity – an anomaly. The broader discussion of female entrepreneurship highlights the need to think of women not as a special interest group, but as half the world’s population. So as Gayle Tzemach Lemmon says, why do they only get micro credit and micro chances?

Watch the TED Talk

Eradicating Hunger and Pushing Growth

16% of the world’s population still lives in chronic hunger. Read about FAO’s Eradicating Hunger and Pushing Growth highlights in the attached. It has lots of key figures in the sidebar along the left side of the front page.

Funding available for African and Canadian students as part of 2012 graduate research grants

Graduate students from Africa and Canada will have the opportunity to benefit from $300,000 (CAD) in funding, as the Africa Initiative today announces a call for applications for the 2012 graduate research grant program.

Grants of up to $10,000 (CAD) will be awarded to as many as 15 African students applying to study in Canada and 15 Canadian students to conduct field-based research in Africa. Applications for the Africa Initiative Graduate Research Grant, which can be found online at, must be submitted by January 15, 2012.

"There is already great enthusiasm for the 2012 grant competition," said Nelson K. Sewankambo, director of the Africa Initiative. "The students who have been participating in the 2011 program are gaining incredible experience, either by building new networks in Canada or by conducting important and unique field work with local partners in Africa. Those who are successful in the 2012 competition will be making an remarkable contribution to research on Africa."

As part of the Africa Initiative, a joint undertaking by The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in cooperation with Makerere University and the South African Institute for International Affairs, the Africa Initiative Graduate Research Grant will give special consideration to proposals that present new and policy relevant research, and that cover one or more of the areas of conflict resolution, energy, food security, health, migration and climate change.

Successful applicants who are currently enrolled in an African university will spend up to three months at a Canadian university undertaking research funded by the program. The research will lead to a major paper to be considered for publishing.

Successful applicants who are currently enrolled in a Canadian university will spend up to three months in an African country undertaking field-based research funded by the program and produce a major research paper that will also be considered for publishing.

For more details on this program, please visit: or contact Ibi Brown, Exchange Program Coordinator for the Africa Initiative, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Timely Utterances

As Labour Day marks another day of meetings on sustainable development for the UN’s Rio+20, I had the good fortune to encounter a quote that is relevant to all multilateral negotiations and probably most human communications:

“Not everything we know can be disclosed.

Not everything that can be disclosed can be considered a timely utterance.

Not every timely utterance can be considered suitable to the capacity of the listener.”

Baha’i writing

In the coming nine months, the negotiations will grapple with ambitious goals, financial realities, and national priorities. Selecting the topics where progress can be made is the art every contributor must learn – on a timely basis.

Determination Overcomes Devastation

It was an honour to recently accompany Alice Kachere, a smallholder farmer from Malawi, when she gave a presentation at a meeting at the OECD. Her personal story is extraordinary. In 1999, she lost her husband, and due to a lack of marital land rights, once he died she lost all her land, her home, and was left with nothing but three young children. Despite the devastation, she now farms one hectare and has begun renting some land to further her farm thanks to a ten–fold increase in her maize yields due to combination of better planting techniques, hybrid seeds, fertilizer and organic manure. Alice, her children, and her 79-year old mother now have their own two-room house.

See part of the Wall Street Journal coverage on her remarks:

Big Partnership Announcement

Now is the moment to prove public-private partnerships can work. At an international level, we can see a new way of operating emerging to work on the world’s most pressing problems.. In particular, recognition is great for the private sector to provide funding, operational expertise, and commercialisation know-how. This can augment programs of governments and NGO’s.

A great example is the exciting announcement of six new programs by CGIAR to conduct research geared to developing countries suffering from food insecurity. The program will be conducted by 15 CGIAR institutions, in combination with over 100 collaborators from academia, civil society and the private sector. The total value is just short of $1 billion that will fund work in wheat, aquaculture, and nutrition, among others.

Read the press release (PDF) - the Global Research Coalition Approves Six New Cutting-Edge Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Programs to Sustainably Boost Food Security Worldwide.

Food Content Contention

From lowering salt and sugar content, to labelling fats in dairy products; the pressure is on for the food sector to find ways to better improve health. In a recent interview with James Thellusson of Glasshouse Partnership, we explore the pressures the food sector is facing in the policy arena, domestically and internationally.

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to